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Welsh language in danger unless more parents pass it on to their children, linguists warn

24 May 2021 2 minutes Read
A grandmother and grandchild

The Welsh language is in danger of not surviving unless more parents pass it on to their children, linguists have claimed.

It is among 12 European languages that researchers at Busuu say are at risk of extinction in a bid to encourage the public to keep them alive. Welsh is considered ‘vulnerable’ while Irish is ‘definitely endangered’ and Manx and Cornish ‘critically endangered’.

Rather than being decided by the number of speakers worldwide, the labels are instead determined by the ‘intergenerational transmission’ of a language – that is, to what extent older generations pass on the language to younger generations.

Other languages on the list include West Flemish, Swiss German and Belarusian, the team behind language-learning app Busuu said.

Lead Language Expert at Busuu Federico Espinosa said: “Many might be shocked to discover that the more ‘famous’ regional dialects are dying, but sadly it’s unsurprising.

“People no longer choose to live their lives in the same regions as their families – globalisation means people move around and they don’t pass on their regional dialect.

“It’s great to see that some are committed to preserving their native tongue. The Welsh government have set themselves ambitious targets to double the number of native speakers by 2050. This is a really positive step forward.”

‘Critical’

Out of the approximately 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists estimate that at least 43% are endangered or vulnerable to some extent, and will likely disappear in this century.

Swiss German is the most at-risk European language on the list, and is classed as ‘Severely Endangered’. Although it’s estimated that around five million people speak the language in Switzerland, it is mostly by grandparents and older generations.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) uses a ranking system with six levels to determine how at-risk each language is around the world.

This system labels each language as either ‘Safe’, ‘Vulnerable’, ‘Definitely Endangered’, ‘Severely Endangered’, ‘Critically Endangered’ and ‘Extinct’.

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William Dolben
William Dolben
23 days ago

Swiss German is the most at-risk European language on the list, and is classed as ‘Severely Endangered’. Although it’s estimated that around five million people speak the language in Switzerland, it is mostly by grandparents and older generations.

balderdash

Morris Dean
Morris Dean
23 days ago
Reply to  William Dolben

Lol, I love it when people hurl their opinions at an article as if they have any relevance whatsoever. Try digging into the research and come back with something a bit more authoritative please William.

William Dolben
William Dolben
23 days ago
Reply to  Morris Dean

Hi, the article didn’t contain any research and the labels it uses are hardly scientific. It stated that Cornish and Manx, whose last native speakers died at the end of the eighteenth century and in 1974 respectively (having died as a community language long before that) are “critically endangered”. Swiss German with 5 million native speakers who use it daily at home and at work is described as “severely” endangered, while Welsh gets “vulnerable”. I have learnt Swiss German and have lived in the Basel area for 4 years. I’m not aware of any Swiss (German) parents who haven’t passed… Read more »

Steve Bradley
Steve Bradley
23 days ago
Reply to  William Dolben

Manx & Kernewek have been revived.

William Dolben
William Dolben
23 days ago
Reply to  Steve Bradley

Yes. Can you name any communities where it’s a living language? My point is that the Busuu “methodology” of language vitality is not a robust way to compare languages like Swiss German, Welsh, Manx and Cornish. The idea that Swiss German is “severely” endangered while Cornish and Manx are “critically” endangered is nonsense.

Ruth
Ruth
17 days ago
Reply to  William Dolben

I wholeheartedly support what you say William and ‘hats off’ for learning Swiss German in such a short time. This is a achievement you can be proud of, not the easiest language to learn. I am a native Swiss German speaker living in Wales since 1974, I have learnt Welsh (Another difficult language to learn) I don’t consider myself fluent but a tick ‘Welsh Speaker’ in a consensus. My daughters are Welsh speakers so are my grand children. My daughters also speak Swiss German and so do many children of my Swiss friends in the UK. Swiss German is definitely… Read more »

Ruth
Ruth
17 days ago
Reply to  William Dolben

In 2017, the population of Switzerland was 62.6% native speakers of German (58.5% speak Swiss German, and 11.1% Standard German at home) I would not have thought that Swiss German is in danger of extinction soon and that if it is the Swiss Government will do its upmost to prevent it.

Ann Swindale
Ann Swindale
23 days ago

Cymraeg is NOT a regional dialect!!

Vaughan
Vaughan
23 days ago

The title of this article hits the nail on the head.
It’s the elephant in the room that no-one wants to talk about. The fact is that only about 7% of children now speak Welsh “o’r crud”.
There seems to be some idea abroad that the education system can do all the heavy lifting as far as the language is concerned with the other 93%, create “a million Welsh-speakers” and we’ll all live bilingually ever after in.some cultural nationalist fantasy land.
Ain’t gonna happen!

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
23 days ago
Reply to  Vaughan

That figure of 7% seems questionable; surely it’s more than that? I question the whole notion that parents are allowing the Welsh language to become moribund within the family, and allowing schools to do their job for them in terms of inter-generational transfer. That was true a generation ago, but not now, I think. The point about young people moving away and leaving the language behind is a valid one, though. A holistic approach is needed to tackle this, including the development of a stronger, non-tourism-based Welsh economy and an end to holiday homes so that young Welsh seakers can… Read more »

William Dolben
William Dolben
23 days ago
Reply to  Wrexhamian

yes and no

around 10% speak Welsh at home according to parents…..

https://statswales.gov.wales/Catalogue/Education-and-Skills/Schools-and-Teachers/Schools-Census/Pupil-Level-Annual-School-Census/Welsh-Language/speakingwelshhomepupils5andover-by-localauthorityregion-category

But teachers used to assess native ability and that was around 7% as Vaughan says. Parents are more optimistic about their children’s use and knowledge of native Welsh. As it says on the site: “The data mainly represents parents perceptions of their children’s fluency and will not necessarily be the same as the ability shown by the pupil in their school work”

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
23 days ago
Reply to  William Dolben

That’s true of any language, though, William, and it’s not a cause for concern regarding their fluency. English children are fluent English speakers but that doesn’t mean they can write good English. That’s an education issue.

Last edited 23 days ago by Wrexhamian
William Dolben
William Dolben
23 days ago
Reply to  Wrexhamian

Written work isn’t evaluated, only (oral) fluency. Basically teachers assessed 7% of children as speaking Welsh fluently as a home language under the old system. When the methodology changed to parents assessing, the % jumped from 7 to 10%. I, personally, would trust the teacher’s assessment of oral fluency. Is it possible not to be fluent in your home / first language? Yes, but in Wales the 3% who parents say are native are probably more fluent in English than Welsh.

Vaughan
Vaughan
23 days ago
Reply to  Wrexhamian

A recent study by Menter Môn revealed that on Anglesey in 25% of familes where both parents spoke Welsh the language, it was not passed on to the children. Failure of inter-generational transfer is still an issue I’m afraid.
In Carmathenshire and Ceredigion the percentage of first language children is below 30%. This is due to immigration to a certain degree (more so in Ceredigion) but it does not explain it all.

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
23 days ago
Reply to  Vaughan

That’s very worrying, in that case. I thought those days were over.

Last edited 23 days ago by Wrexhamian
Mandi A
Mandi A
22 days ago

Alternative narrative if we want to be more positive is that children of incoming families pick up Welsh in the playground. The parents and grandparents are then drawn to learning the language or feel obliged to so that they can follow the homework.

Mandi A
Mandi A
22 days ago

One other thought – thousands of people are learning Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic on Duolingo for free – and loving it. Wales too has a diaspora, we shouldn’t be lulled into thinking of Wales as a tiny country in isolation, that’s someone else’s narrative. Wales in the Euros is a massive marketing success too, especially in Spain.

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